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Michael Komape’s death haunted his sister’s dreams for over a year, court hears

Little Michael Komape loved books, he spent most of his time reading. He was a good listener, did not like to fight and was very neat.

This is how Michael’s older sister, Lydia Komape, described her younger brother at the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane this afternoon. The eldest daughter of the seven Komape siblings was twenty three when Michael died. She told the court that Michael was the baby of the family and they were very close.

“I spent most of my time with him and we even slept in the same bedroom,” said Lydia.

Today was the third day of the ongoing trial in the civil lawsuit brought by the Komape family, with the help of advocacy group, Section 27, against the Department of Basic Education and the Limpopo Department of Education following the death of Michael in 2014.

Michael, just five years old, fell into a pit toilet at Mehlodumela Primary School and drowned in faeces.

Lydia said she refused to believe that her brother had died. “When I got to the school I found that they had covered him, I removed the cloth he was covered with because I could not believe that he was dead. I thought maybe it was somebody else,” said Lydia.

She broke down in tears when she recalled the sight of her brother lying dead after being retrieved from the pit toilet. This led to the court being adjourned for a while to allow her to compose herself.

She later said that for a year and a half following her brother’s death she would dream about him lying dead next to the school’s toilets. “I was even afraid of using the pit toilet [at home] because I thought I would also fall into it; for a year I stopped using it,” she said.

Lydia said the family has not found closure because no one had explained what really happened on the day he died.

Earlier today, Charles Malebane, the man who took pictures of Michael’s body inside the pit, testified that the toilets the pupils used at the school in 2014 , were the same toilets he used when he was a pupil at the school in the late 90s.

He told the court that he was shocked when he saw the state of the toilets on the day Michael died and could not believe that children had been allowed to use the dilapidated toilets.

Malebane said he had gone to the school with Michael’s father, James, after he received a call that he must rush to the school. When he arrived, James had asked him to take pictures of the toilets and that of Michael.

But he was later approached by a police officer who grabbed him by the hand and told him that he was not allowed to take pictures without getting permission. The police officer then took him to the school principal who also told him that he did not have the permission to take the pictures.

“She [principal] told me that I was going to get into trouble if the pictures are leaked to the media,” said Charles.

He said the principal and the circuit manager had ignored him even though he told them that the father of the child had asked him to take the pictures and instead deleted the pictures from his phone.

He told James what had happened.“He was so angry that they deleted the pictures, I had not seen him that angry before,” said Charles. James told him to take the pictures again and from there he took Charles’ phone to prevent anyone from deleting the pictures again.

Yesterday, James testified that the school deleted the pictures because they wanted to conceal Michael’s death.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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